What wakes this blog from its eleven month slumber? A relatively meaningless pitching change, of course!
Some context, for those uninformed about the final moments of this game:
It is the bottom of the ninth, game tied at 2-2, Red sox on the road and facing the San Francisco Giants. Left-handed reliever Franklin Morales is on the mound, with the 6th, 7th, and 8th hitters due up for San Francisco. This is a high leverage situation (leverage index of 2.14 at the start of the inning), but with Craig Breslow and Junichi Tazawa already spent and Farrell reluctant to use his closer in a tie game on the road against the weaker part of their batting order, Morales seems to have been a reasonable call. He struck out Shortstop Brandon Crawford, gave up a single to the left fielder Roger Kieschnick, but got third baseman Joaquin Arias to fly out to Jacoby Ellsbury in center field. This proved to be the final out of the game, as he promptly walked pinch hitter Andres Torres and drilled center fielder Hector Sanchez with a pitch to load the bases for former Red Sock and current second baseman Marco Scutaro, a disciplined hitter if ever there was one.
Farrell decided (very reasonably, I would say) that Morales should probably not be allowed to face Scutaro, considering that he was probably tired and that the right handed second baseman held the platoon advantage.
Farrell also decided that the best option to face him was newly recalled right hander Bryant Villareal, a live arm with plenty of potential but, to this point, potentially disastrous control issues.
It would be wrong to say that the resulting four pitch walkoff walk is "irrelevant." If Scutaro grounded out to second I probably would not bother to write about it, and this blog would continue its pathetic silence. On the other hand, the walk was a bad and predictable outcome from what I see as a very, very bad decision.
Farrell said after the game that the decision was between Villareal and Brandon Workman, who had pitched the day before and is probably not a dramatically better pitcher in the first place. What Farrell should have done was leave both of them for extra innings and gone to his closer, Koji Uehara.
His reasoning for not doing this is quite unsurprising but, if I may be so blunt, stupid. He said that if the Red Sox took the lead then Koji would be out there to close out the game, and he did not think he should be expected to pitch more than an inning if they took the lead. Additionally, the pitcher's spot was due up 4th in the inning, although with both David Ortiz and Jarrod Saltalamacchia available to play first base and catcher, respectively, a double switch would not have been especially difficult to pull off.
The most obvious flaw in this thinking is that the Red Sox were in no way certain to take the lead in the next inning or so. They were not even certain to get another chance, and as Villarreal's 3-0 pitch missed outside for the game ending ball four the Boston bats were quite helpless. In fact, what happened to that one batter was as critical as an entire hypothetical inning, and for this one batter, there was no uncertainty whatsoever that he would go up there to hit.
That spot was one of the most high leverage situations possible in a baseball game. The leverage index at that point was 6.4, almost six and a half times as crucial as an average situation. As an extremely relevant comparison, the most crucial possible situation for Uehara to be put into to start an inning (if the red sox scored exactly one run) would be 3.6, nearly half that of this one at bat.
Said even more simply, The Red Sox had a 35.1% chance of ultimately winning the game. If Scutaro got out the game would be back to dead even at the top of the 10th, with each team having an equal 50-50 shot at ultimately winning the game (+14.9% for the Red Sox). If Scutaro reaches in any way, or there is a wild pitch, passed ball, or even a balk, the game is over and the Giants win (-35.1% for Boston). One single at bat, with the swing between the two basic results worth half of an entire win. That +14.9% Win Probability Added would be his 9th highest total all season all on it's own, and many of his better totals were in two innings of work. If the Villarreal had retired Scutaro and Boston scored a single run in the top of the 10th, a scoreless inning from Uehara would have been worth about +21% WPA. This nice, but the odds that the Red Sox take a one run lead next inning are well under 50% at this point in the game, Uehara could be brought back out for another inning barring an epic, 10+ pitch at bat by Scutaro and the difference between Uehara's pinpoint control and Villarreal's utter lack thereof is far smaller in a fresh inning where a walk or two would not instantly lose the game than it would be with the bases jammed and the score tied in the bottom of the ninth.
Again, I really like John Farrell, and am happy to have him over Mike Aviles. But I really, really, really hated this call.